National Education Policy 2020 – Comments and Opinions By Dr. Shailesh Shirali, Director

National Education Policy 2020 – Comments and Opinions

By Dr. Shailesh Shirali, Director

The National Education Policy of 2020 (NEP) is not an easy read. It consists of more than 60 pages of densely packed material, and it takes a while to get a sense of its vision and recommendations.

Overall, it presents a comprehensive and forward-looking vision. It enunciates the principles at the start –

‘The purpose of the education system is to develop good human beings capable of rational thought and action, possessing compassion and empathy, courage and resilience, scientific temper and creative imagination, with sound ethical moorings and values. It aims at producing engaged, productive, and contributing citizens for building an equitable, inclusive, and plural society as envisaged by our Constitution.’

Who will disagree with such a grand vision? 

But is the NEP just that – grand passages with no inner substance? It’s worth taking a closer look.

What would one consider to be the ‘positives’ of this document? There are many! Here are some of them –

  • The curriculum is to be reduced to its core concepts, with less emphasis on rote learning and a greater focus on critical thinking and conceptual clarity;
  • Assessment is to be holistic, taking into account extracurricular and co-curricular activities, and even including a component of peer assessment and self-assessment;
  • From an early age, students are to be taught the importance of ‘doing what’s right’; they are to be given a logical framework for making ethical decisions;
  • Multidisciplinary studies are to be emphasised at the 9-12 level, and there is to be greater emphasis on learning different languages, including Sanskrit;
  • From class 6 onwards, opportunities are to be offered for vocational training, in varied fields such as carpentry, pottery, gardening, coding…;
  • A new structure is planned (5 + 3 + 3 + 4) which will replace the current 10 + 2; it will feature a semester system and modular courses at each stage.

But there are also ‘negatives’, as listed below –

  • A strong tendency towards centralisation, with individual states having virtually no say in education; 
  • A strong tendency towards privatisation (it being implicitly assumed that the private sector will absorb costs and take charge of challenges which the government is unable to handle); 
  • A plan to have centralised board exams in classes 3, 5 and 8, over and above the exams in 10 and 12. 

Another conspicuous negative lies not in the content of the document but in the fact that the policy was passed with no debate; it was not even brought before Parliament.

Concerning teacher education, the NEP recommends that the minimum qualification for a teacher should be a four-year UG degree, teacher eligibility tests should be incorporated at all stages of school education, and teachers should be expected to put in 50 hours of continuous professional development each year.

Reading between the lines, one sees many points which are going to challenge the government –

  • Government expenditure on education is to be 6% of GDP – a tall order, considering that the actual figure has hovered near the 3% level for several decades now;
  • A huge number of qualified teachers will be needed – but it is not clear where to find them, considering the negligible progress we have made in the area of teacher education;
  • There are references to our rich heritage and recommendations on how it should be incorporated in the curriculum (mathematics, astronomy, metallurgy, Ayurveda, yoga…) – this sounds exciting, but it requires intellectual honesty on the part of the curriculum planner and the teacher;
  • There is a heavy emphasis on multidisciplinary studies, but it is impossible to say how this will work out when we consider the intellectual maturity it requires from the teacher body;
  • The recommendations may badly underestimate the effects of our inherited attitudes; for example, our attitude to authority; to power; to status; to being challenged; and to our prejudices;
  • NEP recommends teaching in the local language or the mother tongue till (at least) class 5. The social effects of this are difficult to predict. Also, we may not currently have the resources needed to prepare quality instructional materials in all the regional languages. (The requirement is colossal. The country has neglected this matter from the time of independence.)

Apart from this, there are some striking oddities of the document. One such is the word ‘multidisciplinary’- it occurs no less than 70 times! The word ‘leader’ occurs 44 times. Some words – ‘communal’, ‘prejudice’, ‘Dalit’ – do not occur at all. What does this tell us about ourselves?

What effect will the NEP have on our approach to teaching-learning, here in Sahyadri? The ‘positives’ will surely get merged seamlessly with activities already happening in school: the arts and crafts classes, clubs, and culture classes. But the plan to have centralised exams in classes 3, 5 and 8 will surely hit the school badly; we all know the narrowing and stultifying effect that such exams may have on school culture, and the Krishnamurti schools have taken great care from the beginning to ensure that exams are not part of the primary school program. All stakeholders are going to be affected by this move in a very significant manner – teachers, students and parents.

It is nevertheless fair to say that the NEP sets forth wonderful aims. But for them to find expression, many things have to happen; most of all, a national-level interest in education, strong enough and deep enough to create a conversation around the topic, involving school teachers and college lecturers across the country, and also parents (have tended to, until now, participate in such conversations only as consumers) – but such conversation is conspicuously absent in the country right now. It is up to each of us to contribute in building and sustaining such a culture.

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